Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Splendor in the Ordinary

Whoever coined the phrase “splendor in the ordinary” may have been dreamily gazing at dewy yellow rose petals softly unfurling, or even cheerful yellow-tufted dandelions dotting a rolling green lawn. He or she may have found transcendent beauty in simple acts of love—changing baby’s 12th diaper of the day; glimpsing a grateful beggar’s tear at seeing your $5 bill and Burger King coupons in his ratty guitar case; or finding fulfillment working for a fussy, difficult boss because you know you are ultimately working for the Lord.

Webster’s defines splendor as brilliancy, magnificence, or pomp. No wonder we don’t use the word splendor much. By definition, it describes the extraordinary. I hesitate to use it to describe what I experienced yesterday, but it is the expression that comes to mind, so here goes …

I spent a splendid day vacuuming, dusting, running and emptying the dishwasher, doing two loads of laundry, ironing, going to the gym, and chopping umpteen veggies for a dinner salad. If someone had called and asked, “Hey, what are you up to?” I would have told her about Saturday evening’s party in the city and my recent jaunts to Iowa and  Michigan, because I think more exciting highlights are what people want to hear. Why wouldn’t I tell her about vacuuming and dusting? Because I imagine she would find it too ordinary and unsplendorific. I can hear her yawn through the phone line. She’d say, “Oh, my, look at the time! I have to go comb my hair. Bye.”

But everything about my domestic day felt to me like a splendid highlight. Why? I am not exactly sure, but my theory is its simplicity, its quiet satisfaction in taking care of basics, my increased appreciation for the basics of life due to the contrast with the weeks that came before. This summer has been a whirlwind—so much extra time keeping gardens, trees, and bushes alive during a drought that many other basics went untended, followed by ambitious reading and packing preparations for a week of intense writing workshops, followed by unpacking, laundering, and repacking for another trip, this one strictly fun, followed by going back to work and drawing closer to my parents for the week my sister was away on vacation, followed by dental work I’m not recovering from very quickly. Just recounting the activity level of this summer gives me a strong desire to curl up for a nap. Does sell Rip Van Winkle nightcaps?

In the midst of the whirlwind, I felt annoyed when I saw brown tabletops turn white with dust, golden crumbs gather under the dining table, and wrinkled blouses bulk up around the ironing board. But yesterday some tender spot in me just wanted to take care of my house and clothes as gently as I'd wipe my infant's jelly-covered fingers. In the whirlwind, I felt flabby but too anxious about my schedule to squeeze in a workout. Yesterday, aerobically oxygenating my blood felt as necessary as breathing. I didn’t hurry from the gym; I enjoyed it. And I found pleasure in knowing every veggie I chopped would make my husband’s and my bodies healthier; and I savored every bite, even though it was an ordinary salad topped with our everyday dressing.

I don’t know how to explain splendor in the ordinary, really. It’s more than appreciation for the basics. It’s more than simplicity or unexpected meaning. It is similar to what happened Saturday night though. At the 11th-floor party in the city, we exclaimed how cool it was to see city lights glimmering in the gloaming. We gleefully pointed at glimpses of Lake Michigan’s blue expanse between skyscrapers. We chattered about neon store signs in the distance and creative lighting displays on rooftops. Then we drove 50 miles home, stood in the driveway, and craned our necks back in awe of ordinary star-studded heavens. And there we stood—quieted by splendor.